Thursday, December 29, 2011


The world of science tells us that the winter solstice passed a week ago, having occurred at a precise moment, 12:30 a.m. EST on the 22nd of December.

This is a powerful example of the ability of scientific knowledge, provided to us in a selective and decontextualized way, to cause us to actually know less than we did before -- humans have traditionally been well aware of the extended period of maximum darkness, lasting more like 14 days than one day -- and then to stop trusting our own perceptions, and finally to stop even having perceptions because we have stopped noticing them.

The reality is that Solstice is not a moment; the sun stands still in the sky for two weeks. The naked eye can't detect a difference in the sun's position between about the 14th and the 28th of December; you would have to have special instruments to know that there had been any change during this period. Meaningful change in the sun's position, and therefore in the length of daylight, begins again on about the 29th, which is today.

A two-week festival at this time of year, with nobody working and everyone having fun, would make a lot of sense -- and is more natural to our race than taking two or three days off and then being thrown back into the grind.

New Year's Day is actually positioned (perhaps by accident) pretty correctly -- because the new solar year does begin just about now, with the days getting just slightly, but perceptibly, longer.

I am wishing everybody peace, friendship, and rebellion in the coming year. Live life fully and furiously, pouring out the best of your love and rage. May the sun accompany you.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Technology and Consciousness

I am walking along the shores of lovely Walden Pond outside of Boston, a natural site made more serene and significant for me by my awareness of the role it played in the life and reflections of Henry David Thoreau, philosopher of nature, peace, and resistance. But the magic of the moment is broken by a man who is walking along the beach in my direction, talking on his cell phone.

I am on a hike on the New York slope of the Berkshires with the Appalachian Mountain Club. We are ascending across a forest floor of red leaves, as the trees have begun to drop their autumn apparel. The trail gets steeper, and the trees shift to more birch and fir, fewer hemlock and maple. When we get to a plateau in the trail, the nine of us are ready to pause to catch our breath and look out over the beginnings of a view, which in another hour will have opened up wide and beautiful. Almost immediately, three or four members of the group whip out their cell phones and try to make calls or check messages. The conversation in the whole group changes to the subject of qualities of reception in different places and with different phones.

I am on an airplane flying safely outside of the reach of a thunderstorm, but with a stunning view into the canyon-like world of the huge clouds to the north of us, with forks of lightning flashing inside the depths every few seconds. There are tunnels, castles, mountain peaks, caves and labyrinths in the world of the storm, and we have a wide view of the entire celestial drama. The man sitting next to me is playing a hand-held video game, never removing his eyes from the tiny screen. I glance around and see that the other passengers are mostly watching the TV shows being broadcast on the screens above us. I don't see a single person watching the miracle out the window, to which I soon return.

I am on a wide, soft beach on the Long Island Sound, looking out over the sparkling water and running down to play in the waves. The sky is cloudless on this day. Two teenage girls (I'm related to one of them) are on a blanket lying down, their backs to the ocean, playing together with their cell phones, looking at photographs, sending text messages to friends, experimenting with different ring tones. An osprey flies by a little ways out over the blue water, soaring the entire length of the beach before disappearing in the distance.

Technology sucks the magic and wonder out of the world. A natural place is not the same place anymore once we are talking on a cell phone or checking our GPS, or even when someone near us is doing so. We get disconnected from our senses and our physical pleasures, and brought back to the world of machines and pollution; and for me, I get brought back to the awareness that nature is being destroyed.

I am reminded of Philip Slater, writing years ago in his indispensable book The Pursuit of Loneliness, words that were something close to, “Superhighways are making it possible for more and more of us to get faster and faster to places that are less and less worth going to.”

This insight, I believe, tears the cover off of one of the most ecologically and spiritually destructive myths of our times: That we can transform the earth, and human life on it, through the creation of technologies that have no relationship to nature and no respect for it, and yet somehow leave the world the same beautiful place that it was. This is a common theme in the ads on the walls of airports, countless images of technology as a source of freedom: We see a woman working on her laptop at a gorgeous lake, because the technology allows her to work from there and not have to go into the office; we see a man getting excellent cell phone reception at the top of a set of Mayan ruins. We pretend that these places are the same, that this laptop has not sucked the essential life out of this woman’s experience of the lake, that this man can still feel the awe of the ruins he has ascended.

Watch your experience carefully. Notice what creates distance, distraction, and superficiality, because these forces make us feel the gnawing emptiness that so many people struggle within the modernized world. Notice as you talk on your cell on the phone whether the landscape passes differently from how it does when the phone is turned off. Notice how time passes as you look at your laptop screen. And then, pay attention each day to what you can do to make a pretty place, a human interaction, a walk -- even a drive -- more deeply satisfying, more joyful, more connected, more ecstatic, more euphoric, more real.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Uprisings and Daily Resistance Go Hand in Hand

The global uprising against the rich and the powerful is spreading to the United States. But it was not preceded by "a period of quiet".

When an uprising occurs, people tend to think of the uprising as activism (which it is), and the period before the uprising as a lack of activism (which it isn't). You'll hear comments such as, "The public finally couldn't take it anymore and they rose up." This is a mistaken description of what takes place. In between visible rebellions, organizers and activists, artists and writers, courageous community members -- in short, resisters of all kinds -- are working tirelessly on causes, with triumphs and defeats. The daily grind of fighting for our rights has little glamour and less thanks, but we all owe a tremendous debt to those who do that work. We would live in far worse conditions than we do without the thousands and thousands of people who find ways to stand up to power. Not only that, but a successful rebellion would be next to impossible without the structures, the organizations, the analysis, the strategies, the decision-making approaches, and the funds that activists develop year in and year out.

At the time of 9/11, the American people were the most mobilized they had been since the sixties. The Seattle WTO protests were a high-water mark of open resistance. But the rulers of this country were able to capitalize on the World Trade Center demolition to brazenly intimidate the leftwing and make visible resistance much riskier and more difficult. The resistance didn't stop, however -- not even big visible street actions stopped, as evidenced by the huge demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in 2008 that were repressed by police with violent brutality. The resistance during this past ten years has mostly been less visible but still tireless; the work of union organizers at hospitals, immigrant rights activists combating the Arizona mentality, feminists fighting the use of rape as a weapon of war, climate activists trying to keep us all from choking to death, anti-racist activists going all-out to stop the execution of Troy Davis, and on and on and on -- it has all been continuing.

Uprisings are exciting and important, but they happen in a context of long, arduous, committed work. Those activist efforts make uprisings possible, and make the gains from uprisings last -- otherwise whatever we win would just fade as soon as the uprising quieted. We need to remember to always honor the women and men who live the struggle all the time, and we need to join those struggles between uprisings. Showing up for the revolution is exciting -- and we need you there -- but it's not enough.

BY THE WAY: According to the Occupy Wall Street website, Mayor Bloomberg has declared that he is clearing the park starting at midnight tonight. Please visit the website to see actions you can take to support the protesters. And, for your knowledge and entertainment, read Delia Smith's Basic Blockading. It's not to be missed.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A New Spiritual Community

I have decided to found a new spiritual community and spiritual movement, which I am calling Nature's Temple. I call the belief system Nature Mysticism. I have included the principles (there are quite a few) below. I hope you enjoy reading them.

The core beliefs of Nature’s Temple:

1) The human being is an animal. We are no more different from other animals than they are from each other. We are not a race apart. All the creatures of the earth are our sisters and brothers.
2) We gather to express and share our love of life and our deep pleasure in the beauty of the world in which we live.
3) We pursue an ever deeper and more ecstatic experience of life.
4) The pursuit of ecstasy is inseparable from the pursuit of love. We strive to make our hearts ever more open to the giving and receiving of love.
5) Ecstasy is about communion. The greatest ecstasy involves a euphoric and mystical sense of connection to all that is.
6) And, since the human race is part of all that is, communion with all human beings is part of the ecstatic experience. This understanding leads, in turn, to the inevitable awareness that justice, respect, equality, and freedom must be brought to all individuals, to all communities, and to all tribes.
7) Nature’s Temple strives to help each participant rediscover and deepen access to joy that does not come from possessing things. We pursue joy from love, from physical pleasure, from experiences of nature, from healthful food that is lovingly prepared, from music and theater and all of the arts, from dance, from touch.
8) We pursue equality and mutual respect, not just as words but as a deeply committed way of life. We renounce the outlook that some people are more valuable than others, that some people’s opinions should be taken seriously while others should not, that some people are worthy of having say and others are not. We will lovingly call each other on elitism and superiority where they creep into our own attitudes and communications.
9) Our gatherings are devoted to the pursuit of love, justice, and ecstasy.
10) Toward this end, we explore rituals, writings, music, and other forms that draw us upward toward elevated awareness, and downward toward rootedness, toward communion with the earth. Candles and other forms of fire, shared dances, songs, and prayers: these are examples of myriad avenues that we pursue and myriad aids to spiritual joy that we use.
11) We refuse the view that the attachment to the human body is the source of human suffering, or that dwelling in this physical and finite world brings pain that must be escaped. There is no need to transcend our animal nature; in fact, to do so is to reject who we are, to create alienation from ourselves and our surroundings, the world we were born of an into. Our joy and our meaning are right here.
12) The highest form of human life happens when we love each other and find ecstasy in our lives on this earth.
13) We proudly proclaim the beauty, sanctity, and purity of the human being and the human body, and of our inherent purpose, which is to be loving and joyful upon this earth.
14) We proudly proclaim the beauty, sanctity, and purity of the other animals on this earth, and of all forms of life with which we share our home.
15) We believe in the beauty, sanctity, and purity of body-based sensory pleasure, whether it be the feeling of the wind on our skin, the smell of an aromatic meal, the pleasure of a massage, the squish of mud between toes, the ecstatic sounds of music, the songs of birds, the warmth of the sun on our backs, the pleasures of lovemaking, dipping into cold water, sitting under a waterfall, rolling down a hill…
16) Moreover, if we lived reveling in these pleasures, there would be no need or desire to pollute and choke the earth, no need to accumulate objects, no need to enslave people and animals.
17) Work is inherently a joyful activity. It does not need to be avoided except when it takes up too much of our lives. Work only becomes drudgery under hierarchy: when it is controlled by others (bosses) and we lose our say, when we are isolated (having to work far away from the people we love, without community), or when it is unnatural (having to work indoors under artificial light, having to do work that harms the earth or its denizens, having to do work that does not enhance life).
18) Therefore, Nature’s Temple gatherings sometimes involve joyfully working together on projects that benefit particular people or that benefit us all, or that are good for the earth and its inhabitants.
19) We are eager to cooperate with other spiritual and religious groups on social action and resistance, community development and assistance projects, and sharing of ecumenical ceremonies / gatherings.
20) We do not believe that the naming of a belief as “religious” or “spiritual” makes that belief above moral and ethical examination and above criticism. We will not hesitate to speak out respectfully but forcefully against religious tenets that spread hatred, that demonize any form of non-exploitative love, that bring shame or rejection to the human body, or that propound the inferiority of any group, be it by race, gender, sexual orientation, age, tribe, or class. We also reject any form of torture or mutilation of children or adults, regardless of its claimed religious or spiritual significance.
21) The raising or hunting of animals to provide food for us must be carried out with the most kindness possible, and the decision to confine an animal or take its life must never lack seriousness or gratitude on our part.
22) The raising or capturing of animals to make them work for us is questionable ethically, and should be constantly reexamined.
23) The destruction of any animal’s habitat is only ethically defensible where it is essential to our survival or well-being. Such excuses as luxury, “progress,” technological advancement, “protecting our modern lifestyle,” “national security,” or the furthering of interests of investors, do not justify the killing of animals or the destruction of their habitat.
24) We have reason to believe that there is still time to save the earth’s people, animals, and other forms of life, if we move quickly into a loving, non-materialistic relationship to the earth, put our best thinking into finding solutions to the environmental crisis, and work from a basis of love and cooperation. Tremendous and rapid change will be required, however, both in how we live externally and in how we think and believe.
25) It is our inherent nature to live in a tribe or clan. Most human suffering can be traced to the destruction of the tribes. It is urgent that we respect and preserve existing tribes, and that we find ways to return to the tribal basis of life.
26) Deep spirituality is not just about pursuing true joy, but also about looking squarely at exploitation and atrocity. Spirituality is often not pretty. It involves gazing deeply into the harsh reality of the cruelty that has been done to individuals, communities, and peoples. It involves grasping and rejecting the excuses and justifications that have been made for those thefts of land, of ways of life, and of lives themselves. Spirituality is about deep connection to beauty; however, when one connects fully to beauty, one also finds the need to connect to what is destroying that beauty, and to stop it.
27) The basis of modern oppression (and perhaps of ancient oppression as well) is materialism, the belief that satisfaction comes from possession and control of things. The desire for possession is interwoven with the desire for power and status, and the desire to avoid doing one’s share of the work, especially the more difficult and unpleasant work. (An irony here is that materialism causes an inconceivably vast increase in the amount of miserable work that has to be done.)
28) Interacting with unnatural machines, including tiny ones, is an impediment to joyful and deep awareness. By unnatural we mean machines that contain unnatural or polluting materials, that pollute during their use, that pollute when they are disposed of, or that required pollution in their construction, which applies to all but a tiny portion of machines that we use in the modernized world. We strive to reduce to an absolute minimum the amount of our lives that we spend in such engagement.
29) Other animals do not spend the bulk of their lives suffering. In fact, suffering is much more the exception than the rule in the animal world. It is precisely in our decision to attempt to stop being animals that we have created lives of loneliness, starvation, violence, and oppression. Our joy can be found by returning to what we were born to be: physical creatures in a beautiful and pleasurable physical world.

If you find that you agree with most or all of what I've written here, please contact me about joining my Nature's Temple group (Western Mass.) or starting your own near where you live. Write to

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Indoor School Is Prison for Kids

Children are prisoners. We are holding them in cells through half of their days, 180 out of 365 each year. During these days they are permitted to be outdoors for 40 or 50 minutes total (“recess”, though we might just as well call it “yard”) to see the sky, feel the breeze, watch leaves shimmering on a maple tree.

Then, to further enslave them, we give them additional work that they have to do at home at night. Some parents require children to complete their homework before they can play, so whatever might have been left of the light of day is further lost. We pride ourselves on being past the days of child labor, but we’ve only shortened the work week a little bit.

Children who become resistant to this imprisonment, who cannot sit still, or cannot stop looking longingly out the window, are labeled “troublemaker”, ”learning impaired,” or “bad apple.” I know a boy who, half way through elementary school, took up leaving his classroom and hiding in the bathroom for an hour at a time. When questioned on it, he would say he had an upset stomach. After two or three months of daily escapes by him, his parents were called in to talk with school personnel. At the meeting, the boy’s parents asked, “Is it possible that school just isn’t the right place for him?” The teacher and the school psychologist peered at the parents with baffled, uncomprehending expressions. Every child belongs in school, no? The psychologist went so far as to say, “It’s okay if he’s unhappy at school.”

Her statement speaks volumes about our view of children. How could it possibly be okay for a child to be unhappy five days out of the week? I’ll tell you the answer: It’s okay because we have decided that children – that childhood itself , in fact – can be sacrificed so that we may live our “modern lifestyle,” a technologized life which requires children to be indoctrinated and drilled into the information and habits that accompany an indoor life, divorced from nature and drowning in plastic possessions.

Children in the wild spent much of their days playing with friends, and the rest working with other community members on the tasks that kept everyone fed and warm. They carried water, they ran races, they prepared for festivals. And they were almost always outside, except in the most bitterly cold weather. They were around the people they loved all the time, and always had access to other children.

We don’t notice children’s incarceration because we have become inured to our own. During our work week, most of us barely see the daytime sky. (As a headline in The Onion reports, “Autumn Colors Appreciated On Walk To Car.”) Underlying our superficial acceptance of this reality we carry a submerged, heartbreaking sadness at the loss of the world that we have been plucked out of, the Mother we have been kidnapped away from. Adults and children share similar fates.

School teachers are in no way to blame for this situation. The best of them are giving children love and helping them feel excited about what they are learning. Thank heaven for them. But the essential problem remains.

At this point in history, we wouldn’t know how to free the children. Where would they go all day long? Who would look after them? Their parents, after all, have to be working all day for bosses, mostly indoors, far from the children’s home and friends.

However, it is our job – the job of the adult world, that is – to find the solution; there’s no excuse for keeping children locked away from our beloved world for most of their childhoods; what “lifestyle” could possibly be worth it, what conveniences could possible justify it?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Lost Tribe

I feel that I was born in the wrong era. I don’t want to sleep on a bed that is sitting on wood high above the earth; I belong on a mat that touches the ground. I don’t want to spend the great majority of each day, and for that matter of each week and month, far from the people I love the most. I don’t want to spend a half hour out of each day outdoors, and the rest inside away from the sky and natural light and the wind and the sounds. I was meant to live in a tribe, putting our heads together often to strategize and solve problems, watching out for each other’s well-being, accompanied most of the time, alone only by choice and not by default.

An unspoken assumption exists in the modern world that our current way of living benefits people, and that there are only a few people who don’t like it. People who dislike technology are characterized as “afraid of change,” or “old-fashioned,” or “technophobes.” Yet almost everything about how we now live is based on technologies that pollute, and that disconnect us from nature, including the entirety of electronic technology and the entirety of fossil-fuel driven technology. The so-called “clean technologies,” such as the computer industry, are among the most toxic ever; if you would like to read a blow-by-blow about what the electronics world is doing to the natural environment and public health, I encourage you to read In the Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander.

So I need to be perfectly clear: It isn’t that I fear technology, it’s that I hate it. Or, to be even more precise, my fear is not the fear of the unknown; it is the fear of something that has proven itself to be horrifically destructive to the quality of life, and to consciousness, and to all the plants and animals that we share the planet with.

I long for life in the wild, living as an animal, the way human beings have lived through the vast reaches of our history. Civilization, which has been disastrous, is a phenomenon of the quite recent past, meaning three or four thousand years at most (depending on what part of the world we’re talking about). On this continent, most people were still living in the wild just 250 years ago, a tiny blip in the hundred thousand years or so that our species has existed.

So I am writing today less from a political perspective and more from a personal one. My heart burns for the tribe I lost – for the tribe that was destroyed – two dozen or more generations ago back along my family tree. I have come to believe that we all carry with us this heartbreak of what happened when our particular tribes were destroyed, and this bottomless-seeming grief has been passed down to us through the generations. We are all feeling broken hearted without realizing it. We all need to grieve the tribes we once lost.

And then somehow we need to find a new tribe to which we can belong, living in love with this beautiful world.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Small Changes Aren't Going to Do It

It's great to switch to compact flourescents. It's terrific to turn our computers off at night. It's valuable to drive a car that gets better gas mileage.

And none of these things comes close to giving us a chance at a livable future. We are going to have to make a sea change in how we live, and it will have to happen quickly. If we cannot accept upheaval in our lives now, by our own choice, then nature is going to impose that upheaval upon us, and we will have very little choice in how it plays out.

Scientists are telling us to move rapidly -- that the next ten years are critical to avoid going past the tipping point.

We are fossil fuel addicted, and as is true with addicts, it isn't going to work for use to "reduce" how much we use; we are going to have to get off the sauce altogether. We have to:

* stop laying down any new pavement at all
* stop cutting down any trees except to make way for other plantings (especially food production for local consumption)
* stop constructing any new buildings, and work only with remodeling or adding floors to existing footprints, because we cannot block off any more access to the earth by rainwater; the earth is our filtration system to have clean and healthful water
* stop using the private car for transportation, period

These are not "extreme" proposals -- though some steps are being proposed by some people that are indeed extreme. But the steps I've listed are simply the minimum we have to do, in line with the broad scientific consensus that has formed, to keep the planet livable for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And we can't take the action we need to take unless we start speaking bluntly, and operating in reality, about what those steps are.

And on the other hand, if we get real about what has to be done, we just might be able to do it.

(I will have more to say soon about these points, including specific suggestions at how you can get involved in bringing these changes about.)